LSU leads ranking of 10 best O-lines in college football
Steve Palazzolo shares the best offensive lines in the nation using PFF's new O-line metric.
LSU leads ranking of 10 best O-lines in college football
There are few statistics than can properly quantify the overall performance of an offensive line, but the PFF team has been hard at work creating one out of our extensive database that comes from our play-by-play grading of every college football game.
The result is the PFF O-Line metric, which assesses just how much each line is contributing in the running game and how well they’re protecting in the pass game, all while adjusting based on situation and quality of opponent. It is much more difficult going against a defensive front as stout as Alabama’s compared to a weak defensive line found in the Big 12, and those adjustments are factored in here.
With that quick background behind us (see a more complete methodology explanation at the bottom of this article), here are the top 10 offensive lines in college football through 12 weeks of action:
- LSU 87.1
LSU finished with a strong effort in a 54-point outing against Texas A&M as QB Danny Etling was pressured on only five of his 28 dropbacks and RB Derrius Guice went off for 281 yards and four scores (poor Aggie tackling certainly a factor in that one). The Tigers finish the regular season with one of the nation’s top trios on the interior in center Ethan Pocic (82.6 overall grade, 10th among centers) and guards Josh Boutte (82.0 overall, 12th) and Will Clapp (78.8 overall, 31st). LSU now ranks third in the nation as a run-blocking unit and fifth in pass blocking.
- Auburn 86.7
Right tackle Robert Leff still leads the way for Auburn with an 82.2 overall grade that ranks 16th in the nation among tackles while guard Braden Smith ranks 22nd at 79.9 overall. Auburn has rushed for 3,259 yards on non-scrambles this season, averaging 5.9 yards per carry, and while their scheme keeps defenses off balance with plenty of misdirection, the line deserves credit for ranking seventh in the nation in adjusted run blocking. They’ve been even better in pass protection, ranking fourth when adjusting for competition, and their work up front has helped the Tigers exceed expectations this season to finish 8-4 and second in the SEC West.
- Alabama 85.7
One of the best pass-protecting units in the nation, Alabama has allowed only 52 pressures on 420 dropbacks, good for sixth in the nation in pass-blocking efficiency and third when adjusting for competition. They’re no slouches in the run game where they rank 13th, paving the way for 2,746 yards on non-scrambles. C Bradley Bozeman continues his strong play with an 85.2 overall grade that ranks third in the nation while the tackle pairing features true freshman Jonah Williams (78.8 overall) and Cam Robinson (75.1 overall). This year’s line has outperformed last season’s national championship group as they’ve improved across the board and Bozeman and Williams have stepped in nicely as first-year starters.
- Western Kentucky 84.9
Making a big move up to No. 4 this week, Western Kentucky finished the regular season with a 60-6 blowout win over Marshall. As usual, the line set the tone, allowing QB Mike White to be pressured on only five of his 26 dropbacks while leading a ground game that averaged 8.6 yards per carry. LT Forrest Lamp is wrapping up an outstanding career in style with only three pressures surrendered on the year and his 86.3 overall grade ranks third in the nation. The No. 4 ranking is more than just Lamp as Brandon Ray’s 78.9 overall grade ranks 30th among guards and fellow guard Dennis Edwards is right behind him at 78.3. Center Max Halpin is No. 11 among centers at 82.0 as Western Kentucky rolls into the Conference USA title game behind the best offensive line among the Group of Five.
- West Virginia 84.3
The Mountaineers bounced back nicely last week with a 49-19 win over Iowa State that featured 326 yards on 49 carries. The game moved their run blocking ranking to ninth in the nation when adjusting for competition and they’ve now led the way for 2,615 rushing yards on the season. C Tyler Orlosky has been one of the nation’s best for a few years now, and he currently ranks second with an 86.1 grade. RG Kyle Bosch has been solid as well, now ranking 15th among guards at 81.6 overall. West Virginia’s defense has led them to a 9-2 record this season, but an underrated offensive line has been right there with them.
- Pittsburgh 84.0
A wild shootout saw Pittsburgh defeat Syracuse 76-61 and the offensive line was right in the center of the offensive action. QB Nathan Peterman was pressured only twice on his 23 dropbacks and they ran for 353 yards on 33 carries, good for 10.7 yards per attempt. The pass blocking is no surprise as they’ve only allowed 30 pressures on 345 dropbacks, good for a nation-leading 93.3 pass blocking efficiency and also leading the way when adjusting for competition. They haven’t been as strong in the run game though Saturday’s game certainly helped. RT Brian O’Neill remains the top player at 84.0 overall, good for seventh among the nation’s tackles.
- Washington State 83.8
There’s no doubting that Washington State’s Air Raid system aids in their success, but the unit has still exceeded their high expectations this season. They’ve dropped back to pass 670 times, allowing only 80 pressures, good for a 90.5 pass blocking efficiency that ranks fourth in the nation. They’ve run blocked better than most Mike Leach-led teams, particularly at guard where Cody O’Connell’s 91.7 overall grade ranks second in the country and his 85.4 run block grade leads the team. The entire line ranks among the top players at their respective positions as the offensive line has been the foundation of Washington State’s high-powered offense.
- Colorado State 83.3
New to the list this week, Colorado State’s monster upset of San Diego State went a long way to improve their standing as they put up 63 points, gained 291 yards on the ground, and didn’t surrender a pressure in pass protection. RG Fred Zerblis ranks fifth in the nation with an 84.3 overall grade including an 86.6 pass blocking grade as he’s only allowed four pressures all season. As a unit they’ve only given up 46 pressures on 352 attempts, good for ninth in pass blocking efficiency at 89.9. They’ve been even better in the run game where they rank sixth in the country after adjusting for competition.
- Tulsa 82.4
Tulsa finished strong with a win over Cincinnati as they ran 60 times for 297 yards. As a group, they’re solid in both phases and they’ve only allowed 40 pressures on 381 dropbacks, good for third-best in the nation with a 90.0 pass blocking efficiency. Guard Tyler Bowling has the top grade on the team at 83.8 overall, good for seventh in the nation while tackle Evan Plagg’s 82.8 grade ranks 13 at the position. When adjusting for competition, Tulsa ranks sixth among Group of Five teams both in the run game and in pass protection.
- Western Michigan 82.4
Western Michigan capped their undefeated regular season with a 55-35 over Toledo and they’ll try to stay perfect against Ohio in the MAC Championship. The Broncos have talent all over the offense, but the line deserves credit for showing well both in the run and pass game, and their pass protection ranks seventh in the nation when adjusting for competition. RT Taylor Moton’s 83.7 overall grade ranks ninth among offensive tackles while center John Keenoy ranks 12th at 81.5 overall. They are the top players on the line, but it’s the performance across the board that has the Broncos ranking among the nation’s best.
Dropped Out: Ohio State
The PFF O-Line Metric quantifies the performance of an entire offensive line on a statistical basis, using a range of data collected by Pro Football Focus’ highly skilled analysis and player participation teams. For both run-blocking and pass-blocking situations, the offensive line’s performance is assessed against an expected production level, which is derived from a variety of scenarios. On run plays, the key statistic is yards before contact, where the expected gain before contact is set based on factors like the number of defensive players in the box, the run concept called by the offense and the down-and-distance situation. On passing plays, the key stat is pressures allowed in terms of sacks, hits and hurries only by offensive linemen. The expectation there is set by factors such as the down-and-distance situation, the dropback-type by the quarterback and whether a play-action fake was executed. These numbers are then adjusted for the opposition and combined based upon the run-to-pass ratio that each offense plays within to ensure that each offensive line is judged for their performance level within what they are asked to execute.